Ohio Valley-Style Pizza: The Midwest’s Unique Take on Pizza

Ohio Valley-Style Pizza

The United States is a melting pot of regional cultures and perspectives. This diversity is one of the essential reasons why Americans see themselves as the strongest or best country in the world.

This approach to life also creates unique regional styles of cooking. The Ohio Valley-style pizza is one of the beneficiaries of this structure in American society.

Every local take on pizza in the U.S. has proponents and critics. Some people might argue that more people dislike an Ohio Valley-style pizza because of how it gets made. Although it is an unorthodox way to create a tasty slice, that doesn’t mean the flavor profile isn’t inviting.

You can travel to the Midwest to enjoy this pizza style if you want. You can also take advantage of the recipes posted online by the delicious restaurants that produce Ohio Valley-style pizza.

What Is Ohio Valley-Style Pizza?

Ohio Valley-style pizza is a rarity in the culinary world. It is a dish that gets served partially cold.

You’ll find this unique approach to making pizza in a string of towns along the Ohio River Valley. Steubenville is the center of this exciting take on a classic dish, but several small towns have at least one restaurant or pizzeria that serves it.

An authentic Ohio Valley-style pizza comes out of the often with a baked crust, tomato sauce, and a thin layer of melted cheese. Then a thicker mound of mozzarella gets piled on top of it so that you experience a hot and cold bite simultaneously.

You must devour this style of pizza to maximize the flavor profile. The cold cheese begins to melt almost immediately as the dish gets served, so it can turn into a congealed mess when it sits for a while. That’s why you’ll see most orders are for individual servings for this regional offering.

Delivery options are also available, with fresh slices experiencing a bit more melting than a pizza served fresh in the pizzeria.

The History of Ohio Valley-Style Pizza

Pizza came to Steubenville in the early 20th century. The DiCarlo family was running an Italian grocery store at the time, creating a name for themselves with the bread made in their bakery. The family began to focus on their strengths, eventually transitioning into a full-time business with baked goods.

If you have ever heard of the Original DiCarlo’s Famous Bread, then you know a little something about the founders of Ohio Valley-style pizza.

The oldest son in the family, Primo, came home from fighting in World War II in the 1940s. He told his parents about the pizzas he encountered while serving in Italy. The crispy bread with cheese and sauce seemed like a natural evolution of their bakery business.

That’s when the DiCarlo’s used their bread recipe with the unique Ohio Valley-style pizza approach to creating a regional dish that everyone immediately loved. A full-time pizzeria opened in Steubenville in 1945, and then the family opened a second store in West Virginia only four years later.

Although no one can say for sure why the DiCarlo family put the toppings on cold, the theory is that the thicker baking pans in the past forced the square crust to cook longer. Putting on the cheese when the pizza first went into the oven would have likely caused it to burn.

That’s the same reason why Chicago-style pizza places the cheese under the sauce. It was a simple solution to a common problem at the time.

What Makes Ohio Valley-style Pizza Unique?

Sometimes called the “poor man’s cheesecake,” the Ohio Valley-style pizza is unique because of its shape and baking process.

An authentic pizza comes shaped like a square. The crust is thick, although it is not as massive as the pan-style approach.

The Ohio Valley-style pizza goes through two baking processes. It gets cooked on a sheet pan with some homemade tomato sauce at first to help the crust start to rise. Then it gets pulled out to receive more sauce and a touch of cheese.

Most pizzerias and restaurants use provolone cheese. Mozzarella is considered a suitable alternative.

Once the pizza crust is golden brown, then the finishing touches get added to finalize your order. Each slice is square-cut instead of serving the entire pie, allowing for the personalization that prevents a congealed mess with this approach.

It is a recipe that hasn’t changed since it was first made in the 1940s.

1. The toppings go on after the pizza gets cooked. 

An authentic Ohio Valley-style pizza has almost all of the toppings placed on the pie after it comes out of the oven. A combination of room temperature and chilled options create the unique hot-cold bites that you receive with this approach.

You can place any toppings on this pizza, with popular choices being pepperoni, sausage, olives, and mushrooms. You’ll also receive a healthy dose of shredded provolone.

Each pizza gets cut into quarters, so you can have everyone in the family ask for something that they prefer. Most of the restaurants allow customers to order ingredients a la carte to create a dish that is 100% unique.

You can also order the classics if your tastes run toward something more traditional. If you’re familiar with pizza al taglio from Rome, then you’ll know what to expect with an Ohio Valley-style pizza.

2. A stewed tomato sauce requires 4 hours of simmering.

The secret to a flavorful slice of Ohio Valley-style pizza is in the tomato sauce that gets used. It comes from a foundation that uses San Marzano tomatoes, although some debate exists if Cento or other stewed options get used.

Then some olive oil, oregano, chopped basil, and onion get added to the mixture.

There’s a slight hint of sweetness in the sauce, and that comes from some finely chopped green peppers. Some restaurants might use garlic powder for intense flavors, but freshly minced garlic cloves work better.

If the stewed tomato sauce is a little tart for personal preferences, then up to two tablespoons of brown sugar per batch can get added to it. Then there’s a little salt and pepper that finalized the flavor profile.

Once all of the ingredients come together, it is necessary to cook down for four hours to create the intense flavors that only come from Ohio Valley-style pizza. 

Delicious Restaurants Serving Ohio Valley-style Pizza

You can find Ohio Valley-style pizza now served from coast-to-coast in the United States. It is especially popular as a stadium food option in several eastern states. DiCarlo’s as an extensive brand footprint that includes plenty of satellite locations that still use the original recipe to create flavorful slices. 

1. DiCarlo’s Pizza.

What makes DiCarlo’s Pizza a regular craving for almost everyone who calls the Ohio Valley home? It is a combination of affordable pies and a crackly, golden-brown crust that benefits from the trademark tangy tomato sauce. You can order the traditional pepperoni and provolone or be adventurous with your topping preferences.

It takes about twenty minutes for your pizza to get made at DiCarlo’s. You’ll find people who sometimes drive hundreds of miles out of their way to make sure that they get to try a slice of Steubenville-style pizza at its best.

You can still order a medium for less than $10 at the original location. Satellites are in Wheeling, Pittsburgh, and several other communities around the Valley.

2. Giannamore’s Pizza.

Although there is less consistency in the final crust here that at the original, you can order an unlimited number of squares at a reasonable price. All you need to do is tell the cashier what you want and the toppings you prefer. Then you’ll see the assembly line baking process get to work on your pie.

The crust is light and feathery, but it tends to stand tall. Instead of using chilled ingredients, everything comes at room temperature. Then everything gets put into a box for you, buried under an avalanche of provolone sprinkles.

It’s the closest approximation to the original Ohio Valley-style pizza sauce that you’ll find outside of a DiCarlo’s satellite.

3. Ray’s Pizza.

If you’re in the Wintersville area, then Ray’s is your solution to a craving for Ohio Valley-style pizza. It’s a small pizzeria that allows takeout only, but you can still get our order by the square. The first pies start going into the oven around 4 pm every day.

The crust has the right mixture of thickness and crunch. You’ll find the sauce is a little heavy toward the green pepper, but it still offers the acidity that stands out for this pizza style. A handwritten menu of ingredients gives you the choices for the day.

Although it can be a hit-or-miss experience a few times, you’ll find people who have been coming to this small establishment for over 20 years because they love what it offers. If you’re not in the mood for a pizza, then there are a few sandwiches on the menu to try.

4. Iggy’s Pizza.

This pizzeria has been putting out Ohio Valley-style pizza since 1983. You’ll want to take advantage of their Wednesday carryout or delivery special if you’re in the area. Monday is an all-you-can-eat spaghetti day, while a fish-fry Friday adds another option to enjoy during the week.

An entire menu of Italian classics is available each day if you decide that pizza isn’t what your appetite craves that day. Some specialty round pies are also available for selection.

Iggy’s calls the Ohio Valley-style pizza their “Tray Pizza.” It comes with sauce, cheese, and pepperoni. You can add some non-traditional ingredients like salami, broccoli, or bacon to try something new.

Prices begin at $1 if you choose a slice or $28 for the entire tray. 

Are You Ready to Try Ohio Valley-Style Pizza?

If you want to try one of the most unique regional pizza styles in the United States, then the Ohio Valley-style pizza must be at the top of your list.

The first bite can be somewhat jarring as you enjoy some cold, freshly grated provolone with the warm and tangy sauce. As the crinkle of the crust crunches along your tongue, you’ll find yourself going back for more until every slice is gone.

Some people don’t like the idea of adding toppings after the baking process, while others swear that this style is the only way to enjoy a slice.

How are you going to feel about Ohio Valley-style pizza? The only way to know for sure is to order a square to find out!